Sweet Corn

As the battle over labeling genetically modified foods heats up in California, with Proposition 37 scheduled for a November vote, news that Wal-Mart will begin selling Monsanto’s GMO sweet corn adds more fuel to the fire.

Wal-Mart told the Chicago Tribune that it has “no objection” to selling the new corn variety manufactured by Monsanto, despite the fact that the corn is designed to withstand excessive amounts of pesticides and herbicides.

The Monsanto sweet corn also contains Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxins in every cell of the plant, which is lethal to certain insects. Bt is registered with the EPA as a pesticide, technically making the corn itself, a pesticide. But Monsanto is positioning the corn as a low-pesticide and sustainable crop. Citing that sweet corn varieties account for less than 1 percent of total corn acreage in the U.S. but use 40 percent of all corn pesticides, Monsanto claims its Bt sweet corn can reduce pesticide applications by as much as 85 percent. In a statement on its website titled “Environmental Benefits of GM Sweet Corn,” Monsanto said, “Simply put, farmers choose to grow biotech sweet corn because of all of these benefits—they can grow healthy plants in a sustainable way while producing sweet corn that is nutritious, fresh and flavorful.”

Genetically modified corn already accounts for a significant amount of the corn grown in the U.S. (86 percent). The California Department of Food and Agriculture estimates that at least 70 percent of processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients including corn (corn syrup, maltodextrin, corn oil, etc). But consumers have never eaten GMO corn straight off the cob. Health experts are concerned that it could increase the incidences of food allergies. Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union told the Tribune, “There has been a doubling of food allergies in this country since 1996.”

Wal-Mart’s support for unlabeled genetically modified foods could have a serious impact on the outcome of Proposition 37, even despite the fact that California has the lowest ratio of Wal-Mart stores to residents. Biotech companies including Monsanto and big food manufacturers including Pepsi and Kellogg’s have already contributed to efforts positioning the measure as a costly burden on California taxpayers. Wal-Mart said that it will not label the sweet corn, and suggested customers who want GMO-free corn should purchase organic varieties instead.

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